Why Are Sunflowers Yellow? (And What Other Colors Can They Be)

Sunflowers, with their blazing yellow petals and deep dark centers, are one of the most unique flowers in the world.

Their uncanny semblance to your cherished sun doesn't just stop at aesthetics—it’s a tribute within the very name. But what's the why behind their vibrant yellow hue?

Sunflowers, or rather their petals, look yellow to us because yellow is the only wavelength of light that doesn't get absorbed by the flower and, instead, gets reflected to your eyes.

That dominant wavelength of a sunflower’s petals (which is in most cases yellow) is determined by the presence of flavonoids, the chemicals responsible for giving it its pigment.  

This is a lot to take in, but keep reading; the following paragraphs will discuss how you perceive sunflowers to be yellow and the chemicals that produce the color.

Why Are Sunflowers Yellow 

To fully understand why sunflowers are yellow, you first need to understand color science, also known as colorimetry. Colors are the visual portion of the electromagnetic spectrum.

And every color has a corresponding wavelength. There are six in all: white (all the colors), black (the absence of color), red, green, blue, and yellow, which can be mixed to varying degrees and create more colors.

An object’s genetic makeup is what determines how it interacts with wavelengths.

In other words, it determines whether it absorbs specific wavelengths and reflects others.

Those factors determine the colors that we see. So, if a sunflower’s petals are yellow, the yellow wavelength is reflected in your eyes while all others are absorbed.

As for why the biological makeup of a sunflower reflects yellow wavelengths instead of other colors, the answer is simple.

For this species of flora, yellow happened to be the color that was the most attractive to the bees that pollinate it.

Interestingly enough, insects don't see the color of sunflowers as we do. Their vision includes different sections of the spectrum. Here's an interesting video that shows how flowers look to insects -

Are All Sunflowers Yellow?

Not all sunflowers are yellow. Several different species of sunflowers come in a range of beautiful colors.

Everything from red to pink, purple, and even black! Most are the result of cross-breeding by botanists, though some occur naturally.

Red sunflowers

Blooming red petals of a red sunflower in the garden

Ms. Mars Sunflower is a deep red sunflower that some compare to flames.

Black sunflowers

Dark petals of black sunflowers

Mammoth Black Sunflowers are aptly titled stunning black flowers with black centers and petals.

Pink Sunflowers

Bright pink flowers of a pink sunflower

The Skywalker Sunflower has bright pink petals and golden tips.

Purple Sunflowers 

Yes! There are purple sunflowers, although they are not as common as the classic yellow sunflowers.

Purple leaves of a purple sunflower

These purple variants result from selective breeding and come in several cultivars, each showcasing a unique shade or pattern of purple.

Some notable cultivars include Chianti, Claret, Ms. Mars, and Ruby Moon.

They maintain the characteristic features of traditional sunflowers, such as large brown centers and long, thick stems, while flaunting purple hues in their petals.

Purple sunflowers can be grown from seeds and are available for purchase from various online platforms.

They are visually captivating and serve as attractive additions to gardens and floral arrangements, providing a distinct color variation and aesthetic appeal.​

Can Sunflowers Have More Than One Color?

Some sunflowers are multi-colored, as with the Skywalker sunflower and a few other species.

What Color Are The Centers Of Sunflowers?

No matter what color the petals of a sunflower are, their centers are usually always dark. The most common center is brown, while some are black.

The Beauty of Sunflowers

To reiterate, most sunflowers are yellow because of their biological makeup. Nature deemed yellow the best color to ensure their continued survival.

That’s why they’re packed with flavonoids, known as carotenoids, responsible for which wavelengths get absorbed (most other colors) and which get reflected (yellow).

Sometimes, the colors of sunflowers can be manipulated, which results in some of the beautiful, unique strains above.

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Check out this related post about sunflowers:

Winter Care For Sunflowers: 9 Simple Ways To Keep Them Healthy In Cold Weather

Are Sunflower Roots Harmful To Other Plants?

Can You Grow A Sunflower From Sunflower Seeds?

Why Are Sunflowers Yellow? (And What Other Colors Can They Be)

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